Frontieres – Architecture between the sacred and profane (Transylvania) Pt.2

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Nicolae Grigorescu, Rucar Fireplace 

 

The House – architectonic elements

 

IT: Since we have arrived at the topic of the vernacular house, what were they traditionally made of?

MP: Once the site was chosen, the area would be cleared and the grounds would be raised and covered in clay, which was then set on fire, in order to set and create a platform. The walls, usually over 2 meters high, would be made of oak wood trunks, braided birch and then covered with clay. The roof was pitched of course, made from reed. Wood followed man from birth (the cradle), marriage (church) to death (the casket).

 

IT: What did the typology consist of?

MP: The house usually had three rooms – the living room, where the hearth was; on its side there is the purified room, facing the street, where guests would be accommodated and another living room for the family.
All furniture and decoration elements had the purpose of creating beauty and followed an established rule. The icons would enable spiritual communion and keep away the ‘evil eye’.

 
IT: What were some of the elements that had magic and symbolic value?
MP: When a family moved into a new house, it was believed that the snake of the house would also come and nestle under the door still. In popular conception, every house has a snake, which protects it and brings good luck.
The roof would usually have at its tip a green branch of pine tied with a cloth and a bottle of palinca (national drink) whilst the construction was going on, to attract good fortune and to ensure the good disposition of the master-builders, who would work cheerfully and carefully, not to make mistakes.
Another example is the hearth, the warm place where the woman would usually work (whilst the man tended to work on the fields) was the place where cooking, heating, disenchantment and spells were cast. One was never to speak negatively near the stove; it was also believed that the spirits of the ancestors would dwell there.

 

There were certain spaces to be avoided when building a house – places where unlawful people lived, where people died of terrible deaths and deserted areas were avoided. A good place was near water sources, but not on flooded lands. Once the place was identified, it was redeemed from the spirits of the place with a sacrifice, then a spike would be placed. The objects placed on the roof during the construction (rag, basil, palinka) were actually the price paid for the silence of the builders, who were to keep hidden the secrets of the house, who knew too many things.

 

IT: What influence has globalization brought to these places?
MP: After the fall of the socialist regime (n. tr. 1947 to 1989), people could now cross the borders for leisure or work. New cultural models have been imported, we see the rise of ‘palaces’ with 10 – 20 rooms, most prominently in Țara Oașului, of Mediterranean or Oriental influence and imported materials. Most of them are uninhabited, yet they are redecorated and new furniture is bought every, let’s say, three years and bought according to the latest fashion. For an outsider, the first reaction would be to say this is kitsch, but this is the reality for the village in the new millennium.

 

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